In a surprise move last night, P&O Ferries NORBANK left Dublin at around 19:00 bound for Mostyn in Northern Wales. The trip follows a an ITV news report yesterday which suggested that P&O Ferries were in talks with alternative ports in the north west of England to Liverpool. NORBANK‘s sister-ship, NORBAY, was prevented from leaving Liverpool on Thursday by port owner Peel Ports due to a dispute over payment of port fees. This led to the effective suspension of P&O Ferries Dublin to Liverpool route. NORBAY remains tied up at the usual P&O Gladstone Dock berth behind the Liverpool lock system. It appears no agreement has yet been reached to release the vessel.
NORBANK was already loaded and ready to depart Dublin for Liverpool when NORBAY was detained. It seems, however, that discharged all of her cargo and passengers at Dublin later that day. NORBANK‘s arrival at Mostyn will be the first time a P&O vessel has visited the port since mid-2004 when the company closed its Dublin – Mostyn route after less than three years of operation. In the meantime, the port has been visited regularly by the Ro-Ro vessels used to transport Airbus A380 wings. This service ended in February this year, however, as the A380 has been taken out of production.
Just trials? Or the start of something more?
It is not yet clear whether the NORBANK visit to Mostyn is because an agreement has been reached between P&O Ferries and the Port Authority for a permanent or temporary service. It could be that the visit is simply for trials to see if the berth even remains suitable. P&O Ferries predecessor P&O Irish Sea withdrew permanently from Mostyn in 2004. At the time they cited problems with the dredging of the channel into the port and low passenger numbers. Unlike Liverpool, which is behind the lock system, Mostyn is a tidal port which even when dredged has limited depth. This created problems when P&O sailed to Mostyn before, particularly with timekeeping. Environmental factors such as weather can affect actual water depth making it difficult to accurately predict depth in advance.
At the time the closure was announced, P&O used EUROPEAN AMBASSADOR (now STENA NORDICA) and EUROPEAN ENVOY (now scrapped) on the Mostyn route. In addition they also had NORBAY and NORBANK on the Dublin to Liverpool route.
Mostyn is a rail-connected port, and trials were undertaken when the previous service was running with transhipping goods delivered by rail via the ferry to Dublin. Multi-modal has become a big focus for P&O Ferries in recent years. Subsidiary company P&O Ferrymasters and its partners have been investing heavily in inland rail terminals as well as at ports such as Rotterdam and Zeebrugge. Should they start a regular service from the port, P&O Ferries would be the only ferry operator at Mostyn. It would also be P&O Ferries only route to Wales. Such a service may take a while to get off the ground, however, even if the facilities are ready for use and customers are happy with the change of port.
P&O Ferries has three ships currently rostered for the Liverpool route. The company own NORBAY, which appears to still be detained at Liverpool, as well as NORBANK. A third ship, CLIPPER PENNANT, is chartered from Seatruck for the route. Sister-ship SEATRUCK PACE has previously successfully berthed at Mostyn. She was used to transport wind farm components from Denmark to the port for use at the Gwynt y Môr wind farm in 2013. NORBAY and NORBANK have deeper draught than CLIPPER PENNANT which was designed to sail from depth constrained Heysham.